We returned to Transcarpathia, Ukraine in the latter half of February after the birth of our daughter. It was wonderful to be back in our home community of Peterfalva once again. We settled in and adjusted back to life in Ukraine. Our weekly Bible study began, we were about to start English lessons, and we were planning in earnest for our two Bible retreat weekends this spring, then everything changed due to the coronavirus. The coronavirus has shut down Europe much in the same way it has North America. Land borders are closed and most plane, train, and bus travel has been halted. Schools and universities are closed, students have all scattered to their homes, churches are closed, and gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited. This has effectively shut down churches and ministries including ours.
We had left Ukraine and our home, for what we thought would be just a few days, back in the middle of March in order to go to Budapest for a six-month doctor appointment and vaccinations for our daughter, Petra. We heard, 48 hours in advance, that the border was closing and we could still hurry home to Ukraine, but we chose to stay for Petra’s appointment thinking it would not be so long before the borders reopened. The situation obviously worsened greatly across Europe. It now looks like it could be a long time before we can return home to Ukraine. The latest speculation is that the Hungarian/Ukrainian border will be closed at least until May as both countries are in quarantine and lockdown. Despite the circumstances, we have much to be thankful for. It is good to be together as a family and we are thankful to God that we are healthy. I would have never imagined just a few weeks ago that this is the situation we would find ourselves in. Stacey and I wish we had packed more than a couple day supply of clothes. Things can change so quickly. It has been a good reminder that we are not in control of our lives, and we really do live in God’s grace in His strength day to day, even moment by moment. We take great comfort in knowing that God is in control and He is Sovereign in all things. I think of the old children’s song “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands” and the comfort that is to adults too. With quarantine and lockdowns, it appears our Bible studies, English classes/clubs, Roma outreach, and Bible retreats will all be canceled for the next weeks, and maybe the entire spring and into June. We are hoping our summer outreach camps in July and August will go on as planned. We will patiently see what the future holds and trust in God’s providence. We know He can use this for His glory and use this to lead people to Him.
We spent the first days of our prolonged stay in Hungary prior to strict quarantine staying by friends. Kulcs, Hungary is the site of one of our summer English/outreach camps and we spent one week staying with the Reformed Pastor who we partner with there. Istvan Fodor is the pastor of two congregations in the area and he showed us great hospitality inviting us to stay with him. We enjoyed our time there. Kulcs is a town located on high bluffs on the west bank of the Danube River with incredible views over the plains to the east. We enjoyed our time with Istvan, having walks along the Danube, long conversations and dinner together every day. Eric was able to be a guest speaker for Istvan’s youth group conducted online on the Saturday night we spent there, enjoying an opportunity to connect to students we have met during the previous two summer in our English camps there, and encouraging them to “Walk in the Spirit”, the topic of the evening study.
Our dear friend Istvan welcomed us to stay as long as we needed, but after a week in Kulcs we feared our family of four had very much invaded his home and we chose to move on to the town of Verpelét, Hungary. We knew no one there. We in fact had never heard of the town, never even noticed it during extensive study of Hungarian roads maps. We found a small inexpensive guest house to rent there and decided to spend some quiet family time there. Verpelét, a small town, is in the hills of the wine region surrounding the famed city of Eger. This wine region is known throughout Hungary for its dry wine, deep red in color, which has become known by the moniker, “Bull’s Blood”. Multiple times during the day the village administration would give information to the entire village over public loud speakers placed throughout the town. It was startling at first, loud speakers blaring throughout the town, conjuring up images of a bygone era. However, the loud speakers just brought local news and basic updates on further regulations. Interestingly, every day at noon, the Lord’s Prayer was recited over the whole town through the public loud speakers, led presumably by a local Catholic priest. We waited with anticipation each day for the community wide recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. We enjoyed the time together as a family and very much enjoyed early spring walks through the hills and vineyards surrounding the town.
After four days in Verpelét, the Hungarian government announced that stricter regulations were coming and it became more apparent we needed a long-term living solution while we wait the reopening of borders and for, Lord willing, the end of the pandemic situation. We reached out to the Hungarian Reformed Church of Tiszaújváros, Hungary. We are in a close relationship to the pastors and the community here. Each summer we spend a week here organizing a summer outreach camp. We are living at the church, staying in guest rooms connected to the church. We are able to use the church kitchen, the assembly hall for a dinning/living room, and there is a big grassy church yard for our son, Hans to play in. They are allowing us to live here like it’s our home. We are thankful and blessed for their warm hospitality.
We are now under strict quarantine only being allowed to go out for necessary errands. We are spending this time having some quality time as a family, studying, preparing for the summer camps, and catching up on communication. Following Easter, we are hoping to begin an online Bible study with students we are often in connection with. This isolation will be difficult for people and we believe this could be an opportunity to continue to reach out to students through an online format. We don’t know what the immediate future holds. We are hopeful that the situation will improve and we will again be able to return to Ukraine and resume our ministry and programs. We are thankful to be in good health and thankful that Hungary and Ukraine have both officially had relatively few cases of COVID-19 thus far.
Online Youth Group